Samhain ushers in the third and final harvest and shifts us into the darker half of the year. Samhain is situated in between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. This season is our annual invitation to explore and honor not only the need for death and decay but acceptance of death and decay.
As we embark on the season of the dead, the crone, and returning to the cauldron to be transformed, we’re faced with the fact that no person, animal, or plant can depart from the inevitability of the death and rebirth cycle. We see the flow of this cycle in the seasons and nature, yet so often, our human minds recoil when we think about the death phase of the cycle of life.
In this post, we’ll be exploring the archetype of death in relation to the witch’s new year, also known as Samhain. I’ll offer some insights around why Samhain is considered the witch’s new year, the importance of honoring the dead and death this season, and some ways to tune into this season through ritual and common correspondences.
Content warning, I will be discussing death and themes of death within this post, so if you are actively grieving or recently lost someone, this is a gentle notice to proceed with caution.
Listen to this article on my podcast, awen, here.
Why is Samhain the Witch’s New Year?
Early in my practice working with the Wheel of the year and the seasons, It confused me that Samhain was considered the new year. Here in the states and many other places around the world, there’s a hyper-focus on the new year being a time of celebration and newness. Why then does Samhain, our descent into darkness, mark the new year for those honoring nature-based spiritual practices?
Samhain is the ever-important gestational period before the return of the light. It is the part that’s so often overlooked in the patriarchal and linear-driven society we currently live in, just like as the fetus transforms in the womb, the natural world retreats into decay and death during this time. We are also given the same opportunity to withdraw, allow parts to fall away, and alchemize from within.
Nature-based spiritual practices are rooted in neverending cycles, not starting points and finish lines. The witch, and anyone living alongside the seasons, not only understands but welcomes the need for decay and death. At the time of Samhain, the season calls us inward to begin this process of rest, death, and alchemy.
One of the greatest gifts of this season is the opportunity to face and learn from our relationship with death and decay, which is what we’ll explore here.
Connecting with the Archetype of Death for Samhain
How do you feel in your body when you hear the words death and decay? Do you embrace these words, do they roll off of you with ease, or does something within you want to disassociate with these words?
It’s easy to see how disconnected we are from death, especially in the West. We see celebrities that refuse to age, food with signs of decay thrown out, and many of our wise elders placed in homes outside of the family unit. Samhain is an opportunity to feel into all of this and become more comfortable accepting death and decay. It’s an opportunity to heal our wounds around death to be more accepting of it when faced with it, whether in your own life or the life of a loved one.
If you’re willing to meet this season where it is, in decay and death, it has so much to teach you, so much to teach all of us. Learning how to be in this world with more acceptance around death and even aging are some of the most freeing and empowering feelings we can cultivate. Here are common ways our ancestors connected to death and a few ways I like to connect with the archetype of death during this season.
1. Honoring loved ones and ancestors in spirit.
One of the most common themes of this season is honoring loved ones who’ve crossed into the spirit realm. Samhain is a time in which the veil between the physical and spirit realm is thin. If you’ve lost loved ones, it’s an ideal time to honor and connect with them. It’s also a time to connect with your ancestors. We do this at Samhain to acknowledge the lives our loved ones lived, and continue to live in spirit. Honoring deceased loved ones and ancestors can also help you tune into the archetype of death within yourself.
As someone who’s lost a lot of family members, I’ve found that fear of death can make it challenging to connect with loved ones who’ve crossed over. Facing the fact that loved ones are no longer here, in physical form, brings forth an undeniable recognition of death, which can be hard.
It’s important to note that everyone’s grief process is unique and that denial is a natural part of grieving. I went through a long phase where I could not even look at pictures of my father and grandmother early in my grief process. If you have experienced deaths in your life, what I’m encouraging here is a curiosity around your relationship with honoring loved ones who’ve crossed over. How does it feel when you take time to sit and think about the people in your life who’ve died? Perhaps you’re not ready to do that, and that’s okay, but maybe it’s something you are ready to do, but the fear of facing death has prevented you from such activities. If you’ve experienced deaths in your life, I invite you to be open and curious about where you are with this.
Some common ways to honor loved ones who’ve transitioned into spirit are to create an altar for them with pictures, offerings of foods and treats, and items they loved. Doing this creates a sacred portal of honor, remembrance, and connection with your loved ones in spirit. A silent or dumb supper is another way to connect with loved ones in spirit. On the night of Samhain, consider creating a meal in honor of deceased loved ones, then create place settings for them to honor them and invite them in for this season. Lastly, and especially if you dabble in psychic work, Samhain is a great time to connect with your loved ones in spirit. You could do this through any number of ways that could include tuning in psychically, tarot or oracle cards, scrying, pendulums, or any other divination tool you prefer.
Of course, this work can go far beyond that of deceased friends or immediate familial connections and can extend to your ancestors as well. If information about your cultural heritage and ancestral past is available to you, consider placing some items on your altar in honor of them as well. There’s also a great past blog post from Eryn Johnson on my blog with suggestions for a guided meditation to help you connect with your ancestors for Samhain here.
2. Connecting with symbols and imagery of Death
Samhain is an opportunity to cultivate more acceptance and reverence for death. Here are some different ways to connect with the archetype of death in this way. This can be deep work. Trust that whatever suggestions you do feel called to are perfect for you at this moment.
Explore the death card in the tarot. Dig deep into the symbology and imagery of this card. Any deck you feel called to or have handy will do. Read different interpretations of the death card. Consider journaling on the card, notice what comes up naturally, how it makes you feel, etc.?
Connect with items or symbols associated with death and decay. Some options are crystal skulls, animal bones, snake sheds, or animals often associated with death like owls, crows, moths, etc. There are so many ways to connect with these items and their inherent connection to death and decay. You could simply place any of them on your altar and notice how you feel as you engage with them regularly. You could also consider meditating with them, or if journeying is a part of your practice, you could journey to them in spirit to learn from them.
Lastly, I invite you to be more open and curious about death and decay. When you interact with an elder or see an elderly person in public, what comes up for you, and how do they make you feel? When you come across fruits or vegetables in the grocery store with signs of decay, how does it make you feel, and do you pass over it for an item that appears more pristine? What comes up for you when you think about your death and the deaths of your loved ones?
Though these can be difficult questions to grapple with, they each hold seeds of wisdom and ultimately growth. If you feel the call to explore death more deeply, this is an ideal season to do so.
3. Explore and Reclaim your relationship with the dark
Even our modern interpretations of Samhain with Halloween have held onto cozying up to the dark. However, it wasn’t until our early departure from Goddess-based and cyclical practices that we started to attach negative associations to darkness and death. The dark and death have not always been feared and associated with evil. It was the influx of linear patriarchal thinking, God-based religions, and white supremacy that have each deeply affected our relationship with the dark and death in harmful ways. Demetra George talks about this in her book Mysteries of the Dark Moon, which I highly recommend.
The Wheel of the Year itself is broken into a dark and light half. The dark half of the year and Winter begins with Samhain, and the light half and Summer begins with Beltaine. Even though the Wheel itself is a relatively modern interpretation of how our ancestors celebrated, we can see in the Coligny calendar of the Celts that there was deep and equal reverence for both the light and the dark.
I encourage you to notice what feelings arise when you think about the dark, whether it be the literal absence of light or black objects. You might even find it helpful to spend more time in the dark, outside or inside, simply to notice how it makes you feel and what it brings up within you. Once you start digging, it’s hard to unsee all of the ways we’ve been trained to associate the dark with negativity. I don’t offer these invitations to say that the light is bad, but it’s our often dysfunctional relationship with the dark that cuts us off from the wisdom of death.
Shadow work can be a great place to start when exploring your relationship with the dark, and this season is a great time to dig into some shadow work! I’ve got a few past blog posts all about shadow work that you can check out here.
Common correspondences for Samhain
Here are some of my favorite common correspondences for Samhain. Most of these come from my new book, Understanding the Wheel of the Year, coming out in just a few weeks!
Themes: Ancestral connections, releasing, cleansing, death, divination, protection, the underworld
Moon Phase: Waning Crescent
Crystals: Amethyst, labradorite, obsidian, onyx, hematite
Colors: Purple, black, silver, orange
Tools: Besom (broom), cauldron, skulls shapes, bones, any items that remind you of death, salt, divination tools (pendulums, tarot cards, scrying mirrors, etc.)
Plants and Scents: Mugwort, cinnamon, clove, patchouli, mullein, garlic
Foods: Apples, pomegranate, pumpkins, squash, nuts, seeds, meat
Runes: Algiz (protection, especially in the psychic realm), Ansuz (receiving wisdom), Perthro (hidden secrets and mystery), Othalo (ancestry), Isa (halt or freeze action)
Goddesses: Cailleach, Cerridwen, Hecate, Lilith, Persephone
Tarot card: Death, Wheel of Fortune
If you’re looking for some less grim rituals than what I’ve offered here, haha, I have you covered too! This is indeed a season to celebrate, even if it centers around death. One of my favorite activities at Samhain is to do a thorough house cleansing and to add some extra protective layers to my space. I have an in-depth past blog post all about this that you can check out here. It’s also a great time to perform psychic work of all kinds, which I touched on with connecting with your ancestors, but any kind of psychic work for any purpose can be incredibly potent during this season. Find all of our past posts on Samhain here.
Wishing you a magical and blessed Samhain! xoxo Cassie
Cassie Uhl is the author of five books and two card decks, an artist, intuitive energy healer, and death doula. Her lineage and practices are rooted in pagan earth-based spiritual practices of Northern Europe. She approaches her work and clients with trauma-informed support through all phases of life. She currently resides on the land of the Myaamia people in so-called Indiana of the US.